Monday, 31 October 2016

Three Weeks After the Show

I can't believe it's already three weeks since our club show. Time is really flying and as we move from spring into summer some of my trees are growing like crazy. I decided it was time to see what progress my show trees had made in that short time.

I was amazed to see the change in my Stinkwood tree. This is what it looked like at the show:

Stinkwood as it appeared at the show

Since then the branch structure had largely disappeared behind a mass of big new leaves. (Sorry about the bad camera angle hiding the base.)

Stinkwood with three weeks of growth since show

I might have left it like that for a little longer, but this tree has a crazy idea of seasons, waking up in late winter and going dormant long before my other trees. As I'm hoping to get some better ramification going I need to maximise its growing season so I did something approaching a Walter Pall hedge prune - nothing too dramatic, just reducing the volume of foliage to allow light to get to the inner branches which need it most. I'll do more selective pruning while it's dormant, and by then I hope to have more options to choose from.

I was much gentler on my other show trees.

Schotia - 30 October 2016

My Schotia had hardly put out any new growth since the show. The only useful bud of any substance was this one, though I spotted a couple of other buds which are just starting to swell.

Aside from that it had pushed out this unwanted bud on the trunk:

Removing that was the only work possible on this tree. As it grows slowly, I'm not sure how much more I'll be able to do this summer. Ramification may take a while on this one.

My olive tree is starting to look a bit messy, with lots of little buds pushing out all over the trunk:

Some of those buds will need to go before I lose track of which branches I really want, but I'll leave working on this tree for another day. There's been a change of plan for its future design since I originally discussed it back in April, so it really needs a post of its own.

As for my little ficus, it's starting to look a little untidy too, but I decided to hold back on the next trim for a little longer. I'll probably trim the top growth soon, but I'll let the lower branches grow for a while so that they can thicken up a bit more.

With top branches wired

Meanwhile I noticed that the wire on the upper branches was starting to bite, so I removed that.

After removing the wire

The branches held their position reasonably well so I didn't bother to rewire them for now. There's plenty of time to do that later if required.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Cutting Back

During my club's annual show I sold six small trees. Given the fact that the drought which made last summer so difficult is still very much in evidence and that water restrictions are now harsher than ever, I really should have sold a lot more. However I didn't plan ahead, and it was only a frantic last minute search that enabled me to sell anything at all.

Clearly a new approach is called for and I've made up my mind to start planning for next year's show right now. That means starting a list of candidates for sale, then watching how they develop over the next eleven months.

As I'm trying to keep water usage to a minimum, part of my plan involves limiting the size of many of my trees. The necessity for this became obvious when unrestrained early summer growth made it difficult to see the smaller pots hidden by masses of foliage. My bonsai area is poorly lit, so proper watering becomes particularly problematic on those days when I'm forced to water after dark.

One small section of my bonsai area showing how difficult it is to see the where the water needs to go

This situation has already lead to a few trees drooping after they didn't get adequate water. At the moment I only have one whose survival is uncertain, and I don't want to risk having others join it on the endangered list.

Some special trees will be allowed the privilege of neglect, while others will be pruned for the purpose of styling. However many of my cuttings, saplings and less interesting trees will undergo periodic cutting to prevent them taking too much space, as I've done with this little Stinkwood:

Hopefully I won't make too many mistakes along the lines of what happened to this poor Rhododendron which I air-layered off a larger tree two or three years ago:

I had no intention of removing the higher branch on the left hand side, but unfortunately a rushed wiring attempt caused it to snap so badly that I was unable to save it.

It will be interesting to see how the victims of this experiment respond.

Most of the trees receiving this treatment will be placed on my list of candidates to be sold next summer. How they respond to this experiment will determine which I decide to sell and which will remain part of my collection.

While I've been cutting back some of my trees I decided to experiment with shooting time lapse videos of my work. The tree in this video is a little elm which I got off our club raffle table a few years ago. Although it's small and not very exciting, I don't think I'll be selling this one just yet.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

The Screaming Stinkwood Tree

Among the photos I used in my post about the trees I displayed at our club show last weekend was a shot of a rather boring stinkwood tree. The only thing it appeared to have in its favour was a fairly thick trunk.

Suggested front
I acquired that tree off my club's raffle table towards the end of 2012. At the time it was sharing a pot with a young Pyracantha which had taken root in its pot, so my first priority was to separate the two trees. I took them along to a workshop the next day and, once they had been separated, I asked my mentor for a bit of advice regarding styling and accepted what appears in that photo as being the best front for the tree.

Over the next tree years I did very little work on it. Then, late last year I took it to a workshop attended by members of various clubs from my area. I had a special person in mind whose advice I wanted as stinkwood trees are one of his areas of expertise.

Although I don't know him very well he was most helpful and even did some heavy carving on the back of the tree. When he was done I asked if that was still the back and was rather surprised when he replied in the affirmative. As he was the expert however, I accepted his opinion though I was never totally convinced that he was right.

Fast forward to October 2016 and my preparations for the show. I always planned to display the tree showing the "correct" front and when I arrived at the venue, I placed it that way on the display table. However every time I looked at the tree it just felt wrong and I expressed my doubts to many members before the breakthrough moment when one member looked at the gaping hole in the "back" of the tree and said it reminded him of Edvard Munch's painting called The Scream.

That was all the affirmation I needed to go with my gut and I immediately turned the tree around to show this front:

My preferred front

I don't care how many people tell me I'm wrong. It's my tree, and to me the carving is its most interesting feature, so it deserves to be seen. Now I just need to create the canopy the tree deserves.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Same Artist, Better Tree

In my previous post I discussed a display from my club's annual show which was always likely to spark controversy. Perhaps that was the artist's intention.

Regardless, I only ever looked at the display in its entirety without paying much attention to the tree itself. It was only when one of my Reddit readers described it as "a mediocre tree at best" that I took the time to observe it as he had done, and I realised that this was not one of the owner's better trees. I'm guessing that he didn't want to subject one of his best trees to life in such a harsh and unnatural environment.

Perhaps his critics will feel more positive about another tree he had on show last weekend.

According to the label it's a Dodonia (Sand Olive), not a species I'm acquainted with.

This tree is still very much a work in progress and appeared in the section for trees which have been in training for less than five years, hence its appearance in a plastic training pot. It was collected about five years ago after spending most of its life as part of a hedge.

While the owner has done extensive carving the development of the canopy requires time and the assistance of mother nature.

I'd like to believe that when it achieves its full potential it will be displayed in a pot worthy of its quality. One thing is for sure - this tree is far too large to ever find itself living in a rusty old shovel!

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Use Your Imagination

I hate to admit that when I first joined my bonsai club I became so bogged down by the rules that after a while all my trees started to look the same. I guess realising that mistake is the first step towards creating interesting bonsai, though I can't help feeling that mine still have a long way to go. Slowly I'm developing a taste for the quirky though, as can be seen in the development of my fig tree.

Some people have more imagination than others and fortunately it takes all kinds to make a club. Today was day one of our annual show and there was quite a mix of trees there.

Here's one by an artist with a lot of imagination:

Instead of a pot this Juniper is planted in the bowl of a rusty old garden spade which has been wrapped with barbed wire to depict struggle. There were a couple more elements to the display, but it was too much to fit into one small photo, so I concentrated on the tree and its message.

Obviously this kind of display isn't going to be to everyone's liking. You can love it or hate it, but you can't ignore it. I guess that's what makes it art.

One thing is for sure, my own show trees look very ordinary by comparison.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Trees in training for less than five years

It's showtime at my bonsai club this weekend.

In bonsai terms that should be one of the highlights of my year, but unforeseen circumstances have prevented me from dedicating much time to my trees over the past month and this week I found myself totally unprepared for the show. When I looked at my small collection of trees which are actually in bonsai pots, only one looked vaguely show-worthy but not really the way I'd have wanted it to look for putting on show.

Fortunately the club has introduced a section for trees which have been in training for less than five years, and those can be displayed in training pots. So I looked around to see which trees I could display in that section and cut my options down to four on which I did some preparation today.

These are my options:

1. Schotia Brachypetala

Schotia - before tidying up for show

This tree has been growing quite vigorously since its early spring pruning. Initially I planned to do no more than rewire it, but in the end I went a little further and ended up with my tree looking like this:

Schotia - ready for show

Though it appears that I did some drastic work, only one branch was pruned. The rest was merely reducing the volume of the large compound leaves so that the branch structure became a bit more visible. Though I'm not convinced the tree is looking its best right now, removing that foliage actually helped me to notice a few branches that had been wired in the wrong direction. That should benefit the tree in the long term.

2. Celtis Africana

Celtis Africana

This is one of my bigger trees and has quite a nice trunk, with a few secrets which I'll keep for a future post. Unfortunately I haven't put much time or effort into ramification yet, so the top isn't looking that good.

3. Olea europaea subsp africana (Olive)


This tree has had a bit more carving done since I last wrote about it in April. Since then it had put out lots of new growth all over the trunk, but I tidied that up for show purposes. I'm not totally happy with the style though and plan to let the branches grow out further for the rest of the summer.

4. Ficus Natalensis

Ficus Natalensis

The smallest of the four but one of my favourite trees. This one was propagated from a root cutting and has been grown with very little input from the members of my club, so this more than any of the others feels like 'my' tree. Although the scars may bother some people, I like them and feel they almost make the trunk look like a little person.

Unless I have a last minute change of heart I'll be taking all four trees along to the show set-up on Friday. Hopefully all will be regarded as good enough.